No doubt the past 15 months have been rather hectic for NASA staffers. Priorities have shifted, budgets have been cut, and projects have been killed off. Then there's the fact that it operated without a permanent leader for more than a year – Trump's nominee, who has no background in science and a dodgy record on climate change, was only confirmed last month. Yet through this, the agency has remained straight-faced and tight-lipped.
In an interview with The Guardian, one former NASA employee opened up about what life is really like inside the agency. Laura Tenenbaum spent 10 years at NASA working as a science communicator before handing in her resignation and leaving the job last October.
“NASA’s talking point is that it’s business as usual, but that’s not true,” she explained.
In particular, she highlighted the de-emphasis on climate science communication, which has been "minimized" since Trump took office because staff are scared the White House will cut funding for climate change research.
"There is a fear and anxiety there and the outcome has been chaos,” she added.
While the official NASA pages still list the evidence, causes, and effects of climate change, the number of blog posts on the agency's Facebook page dedicated to climate science (NASA Climate Change) has shrunk. So too have the interactions. In April 2016, when Obama was still in the White House, there were 100,000 likes, comments, and shares. In January 2017, when Trump was inaugurated, there were 61,700. Last April, there were just 7,000.
An agency spokesperson has responded by saying the number of blog posts vary month-to-month depending on "personnel availability and other factors including mission activities" but Tenenbaum said the new administration began enforcing a stringent review process on every single blog or social media post she published roughly a month after the inauguration.
This meant that several planned blog posts – including an interview with Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York – were either delayed or pulled entirely. All because career staffers expressed concern these articles could be controversial and provoke a negative reaction from the White House.
“I was told verbally by media relations it was because with Trump as president, climate change is now a sensitive subject,” said Tenenbaum.
“There was confusion about what to do now we have a president who doesn’t believe in climate change. Everyone was scrambling. It was chaos.”
These feelings appear to be backed by another staffer, who told The Guardian, “Some people are apprehensive, some are defiant and some put their nose to [the] grindstone and get on with it.”
[H/T: The Guardian]